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Beyond Doom and Gloom: Responding to Climate Change in a Digital Age

Instructors: Alison Spodek Keimowitz, Associate Professor of Chemistry, Vassar College, and Andrew M. Winters, Professor of Philosophy, Yavapai College and Instructor, SUNY Ulster Community College

Course Description: In this course, students will have an opportunity to better understand the scientific process so that they may have a more informed understanding of climate change and possible responses. Students will develop skills in critical thinking, digital literacy, scientific literacy, and science communication.

Where is the American Dream? Inequality and Social Justice

Instructors: Sarah Pearlman, Professor of Economics, Vassar College and Aafreen Abdul Mannan, Instructor in American Studies, Guttman Community College

Course Description: The American Dream captures the idea that a person can pursue their dreams and improve their lives regardless of how or where they grew up. During the past few decades this dream has appeared more elusive in the United States due to rising income inequality and declining social mobility. In this interdisciplinary course we will examine some of the drivers of these trends, including discrimination, wage policies, globalization and automation. We also will explore differences across countries, as rising inequality, declining mobility and the causes of these trends are not unique to the U.S. Nevertheless, we will see that the ability of people to move up the income ladder varies a lot across countries, and even across regions in the U.S. One goal is to understand which places offer more opportunity and social justice. Key to these discussions will be the role that public policy can play.

We will examine each topic from a quantitative and qualitative perspective. By learning and
integrating different types of ideas and perspectives on inequality, mobility and social justice, students will develop a complex understanding of these issues and selected approaches to addressing them. Students will also critically analyze their lived experiences and prior knowledge throughout the course

The Meaning of Value

Instructors: Mark Cleaveland, Associate Professor of Psychology, Vassar College, and Marybeth McDonough, Adjunct Professor of English, SUNY Orange Community College

Course Description: What guides our choices? What gives those choices meaning? In this course we will unpack these two seemingly simple questions from the perspectives of evolution, psychology, and literature, and we will discover frameworks for understanding how value shapes our experiences. In evolutionary theory, animals behave for reasons of “fitness.” What does this mean, and how does it apply to humans? For example, is autism an adaptation? What about depression? In psychological theories, animals behave for reasons of motivation or reinforcement. However, if people make choices in order to achieve rewards, why do they sometimes regret these same choices? Finally, literature is replete with characters who seek to make sense of their own choices. When we identify with characters and situations within the context of a story, we can apply that understanding to our own decisions in life. Taken together, evolution, psychology, and literature speak to the meaning of value – a concept that is forever shaping the form of our living.